The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Amnesty politics over political prisoners

Calcutta, Nov. 4: Kaushik Ganguly, Shampa Dasgupta, Mithu Roy.

Nayan Sardar, Badal Majhi, Lakshmi Mahato.

Both sets of three are persons arrested last year for the same alleged “crime”: waging war against the state. But fate — or the compulsions of keeping an “Opposition-friendly image” — has set different futures for them.

The first three — picked up during high-profile raids from areas within the limits of greater Calcutta — have been released in the past fortnight after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee publicly declared that his government’s policy was not to target persons having a parallel political ideology.

The second set was picked up in relative obscurity — Sardar from Belpahari in West Midnapore, Majhi from Ranibandh in Bankura and Mahato from Binpur in West Midnapore. All three were landless labourers living far from Calcutta. The news of their arrests neither got media attention nor did they stick to public memory.

Sardar, Majhi and Mahato — essentially political detainees — are going to spend another Diwali behind bars. Their release, like their arrest, would not be picked up by the media and, therefore, would not help the government prove that it has grown less sensitive to political opponents and more sensitised to the requirements of democracy, feel human-rights groups clamouring for the release of the less-known political detainees.

The problem of these detainees, languishing in prisons across the state, has been made worse by lack of free dissemination of news. Even the rights groups fighting for their release do not have an “exact idea” about the number of people arrested in connection with the rise of the CPI(ML)-People’s War in the state. “It would be around 350,” Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha convener Kirity Roy said. “Most of them have been falsely implicated in multiple cases so that the procedure for release becomes more complicated.”

The Association for Protection of Democratic Rights, however, has the names of about 150 people on their list, spokesperson Sujato Bhadra said.

The home department, “officially”, does not have any clue. “The government is not looking at these prisoners as a homogeneous unit and, therefore, cannot be officially seen as keeping a separate account of them,” an official said. “But the number of arrests — from the day when intelligence agencies started reporting increased activity of the Naxalite groups — would be at least 300,” he added.

The hopelessness of these prisoners also stems from the fact that they belong to separate groups, many of whom — despite the stand at their highest level that they would co-operate — do not see eye to eye at the grassroots level.

“Most of the fissures in the ultra-Left family have occurred because of ground-level misunderstanding and mutual suspicion, often arising out of ego hassles,” a People’s War source admitted.

Officials say the background of these prisoners — most of them landless peasants, unemployed youths or women — is another impediment to their release.

Blaming the media for focusing on only the arrests of the “urban, educated” youths, an official said releasing the others would come about “very slowly” as “neither the government nor the media had anything to gain by releasing them”.

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